CARROLLTON, Ga. (Harding) – West Georgia scored 21 fourth quarter points and defeated Harding 28-21 on Thursday at University Stadium in the Gulf South Conference opener for both teams.
"When you are playing a close game, you can't have penalties, turnovers or problems in the kicking game, and we had all three," said Harding head coach Ronnie Huckeba.
Harding (1-1, 0-1) led the game 14-7 to start the fourth quarter and had the ball at the West Georgia 36-yard line with a chance to go ahead by two touchdowns.
But on the first play of the drive, West Georgia's Ken Hale recovered a Harding fumble and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown to tie the game with 14:49 left.
Later in the quarter, Harding senior cornerback Eddie Russ, Jr., intercepted his second pass of the season and returned it to the West Georgia 35. Three plays later, Bison junior Kale Gelles ran in from 23 yards out to put the Bisons ahead 21-14 at the 5:35 mark.
Gelles, who rushed for 103 yards in Harding's season-opener against Southern Arkansas, had 29 carries for 181 yards and the touchdown. He became the first Bison to rush for over 100 yards in consecutive games since Dondtray Thomas in 2002. His 181 yards were the most by a Bison since Kyle Wess carried for 200 yards against Arkansas-Monticello in 2006.
Penalties bamboozled the Bisons on the ensuing kickoff. Officials flagged Harding for offsides and a late hit to give West Georgia the ball at the Harding 42. Wolf quarterback Joe Weatherford engineered a six-play, 57-yard drive that ended with 16-yard touchdown pass from Weatherford to V.J. Hunt to tie the game with 3:15 left.
Harding went three-and-out on its next drive, and Weatherford hit Arkeem French on a 55-yard touchdown strike for the eventual game winner.
The Bisons took an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Josh Powell rushed in from three yards out to culminate a 9-play, 78-yard drive.
UWG's Denaris Appling then found a hole in the Bison kickoff coverage and returned the kick 70 yards to the Harding 6. French scored two plays later on a pass from Brandon Behenna.
Harding took its 14-7 lead the in the third quarter when Kyle Young scored his first career touchdown on a 10-yard run with 2:34 left in the period.
Harding rushed for 288 yards on 68 carries in the game, the fifth-most rushes in a single game in Bison football history.
West Georgia (1-2, 0-1) had only 55 rushing yards on 21 carries, but passed for 225 yards and three touchdowns.
Harding will be back on the road next week in Arkadelphia, Ark., against Ouachita Baptist. Kickoff at A.U. Williams Field is at 7 p.m. It will be the first night game in Arkadelphia between the Bisons and Tigers since 1974.